Friday, September 13, 2013

Disneyland Ideas!

We recently returned from Disneyland California and I wanted to share a few helpful hints when planning your trip to Southern California.

I checked out the latest Disneyland guide book from the library, as editions come out most every year, so better to check it out than purchasing it.  This will give you good ideas on area hotels, rides, restaurants, etc.

If you are planning on staying in the area for at least 4 or 5 days, it's a great deal to purchase the Southern California City Pass.  This contains a 3 day park hopper for Disneyland/California Adventures, 1 day at Universal Studios & 1 day at Sea World San Diego.  But.... if you purchase it through Universal Studio's website, you get an extra day at that park (especially helpful if you have older children).  The kicker is that you have to go to Universal the first day to get your tickets.  The cost for the City pass is the same as buying the 3 day park hopper at Disneyland plus 1/2 the cost of a 1 day Universal ticket.  So, if you think you're going to do 3 days at Disneyland and at least either Universal and/or Sea World too, this is the best deal.

In planning for the trip and making sure we brought all that we needed, I searched on Pinterest to find lots of ideas from different bloggers, such as the post from Food it Forward and many others.  Below are the thoughts that I have to add to those I found already on the web:

California Adventure - World of Color show: completely worth it to stay!  The best way to get an actual seat (not just a reserved area to stand) is to go to the upstairs outside bar area of Ariel's Grotto.  They stop letting people in at 7pm, so get there at least 10-15 minutes before then so you can get a table.  They have a pretty good bar menu to order from & then you have a seated reserved spot to watch the show from!  We were able to watch a Monday 8:30pm show, so we didn't have to wait too long to watch after eating.  They stopped serving food and drinks around 8pm, fyi.

Other things to pack, that I didn't see on many lists:
- a few months before the trip, I begin checking the Disney Store online for deals on t-shirts, stuffed animals and Princess dresses.  You can save soooo much money by bringing the clothes and other Disney things with you, rather than purchasing there!  Hence the $13 princess dress I brought for my daughter! 
 I don't show the kids the clothes or surprises before the trip, so it's fun, new clothes and toys when they're there.  I also gather a few Disney stuffed animals that we already have and just bring them along & put them in the kid's beds when we get there.
- What to Wear - looking back at the trips I took as a child with my family (as a family of 6, as well), I now understand WHY my mother dressed up alike!  It's easy to find everyone! Each day, we took a family picture (in case of emergency) and then, throughout the day, when looking for my kids, I at least knew which color to look for!  It also made it super easy for me when packing to ask my husband to just get out the color of shirts he needed to "fit in!" (Blue day above & red day below :-)
- for safety, I safety pinned a ribbon with both my husband & my cell phone numbers (with area code) to the back of my 3 year old's belt loop of his shorts.  I made sure each of my older children knew both of our cell numbers in case of getting separated.  There are some fancy-smancy ID tattoos you can buy and other ideas, but that requires preparing ahead of time to order!  I saw on one blog that one mom just wrote her number in permanent marker on her child's arm, so there's an option too!
- bring glow bracelets/necklaces (Dollar Store, etc) on the trip, so you won't be tempted to spend a fortune on all of the light up toys when it gets dark.
 - if you think your child might want to get some of the Disney pins/lanyards to trade, it's best to purchase the lanyards ahead of time, as well.   You can also search for some of the pins on sale online to bring with you.  This was our first time to do this & the kids enjoyed looking for what pins they wanted to trade with any Cast Member who had a stash of pins.  I did not anticipate us doing this, this year, so for our 4 kids to have a lanyard each and 2 pins, it was a whopping $125!!  So, buy ahead!!  I'm going to store them together in a safe place for future trips. 
- Frogg Toggs - Thankfully, one of my friend's mentioned getting a few of these for the trip & I am so thankful we did!  It was worth the $12 at Walmart.  The towels stayed wet and cool pretty much all day and were so refreshing as it was hot!  We were the envy of many on the hot days!

- thankfully, Disney allows you to bring in snacks and drinks!!  Take advantage of this!!  We packed snacks every day, so we only had to purchase lunch.  We were able to pack lots of protein snacks for us and the kids, to everyone stay more full and happier longer!  Thankfully, for lunch, at most of the restaurants, we were able to find low-carb, high protein yummy meal options too.  We also packed reusable water bottles.  It would be a good idea to pack the little packets for flavoring, like tea or hawaiian punch, etc, for when you get tired of just water.  I'd also recommend bringing a water bottle with a fan or sprayer - so refreshing on a hot day! (I found a few for $7 at Walmart)

Picture Taking:
Know that all Disney "cast members" (employees) have to take a picture for you with your camera or phone, if you ask them, this includes their photographers.  So, make sure and ask them to take your whole family picture (so you can actually be in a pic!).

Riding the Rides:
- yes, check the height requirements of the rides before you go, so you can plan accordingly.  But, you also need to know that even if you meet the height requirement (as a child) or if there's not even a height requirement, you have to be at least 7 years old to go on the ride by yourself.  If your child is younger than 7, but meets the height requirement, someone at least 14 years old has to ride with them. This became an issue when my husband took our older two children and I had our younger two.  My 6 year old had to ride in the same car as me, with our 3 year old, even though it was a 2 person spot. 
- if you purchase the Southern California City Pass or if you are staying at a Disneyland hotel, take advantage of the Magic Morning, when they open 1 hour early just for those visitors.  With the Southern California CityPass, you get 1 early morning entry, on specific days to Disneyland.  I highly recommend doing it, as the crowds are much less.
- If possible, travel during the school year.  Personally, we went from Thursday to a Tuesday, so our children missed 4 days of school.  But, the great positive is that we only waited 15-30 minutes at the most in a few lines.  A majority of the lines were shorter than that! 
 - We were celebrating 2 of our children's birthdays while there - one happened during our trip, the other a few days after.  But, they both got a button with their name on it when they entered & EVERYONE working at Disney would tell them Happy Birthday!  So special! (Birthday button above!)
- They really do an amazing job on their parades - don't miss them!

Planning the Rides:
The Touring Plan website is a great resource to plan your day at Disney, with many options for your visit.  I highly recommend joining for the $6.95 fee they charge to use it for a year.  We didn't follow the plan we had created to a T, but it was a great place to start.  They also have it for Disneyworld, if you are going to Florida (a little more expensive, but great to help you plan which park, which day).

Where to stay:
- if you have a family of 5 or less, you might consider staying at a Disneyland hotel (Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian).  A few trips ago, (when we had less children), we have stayed at Paradise Pier and another time at the Disneyland Hotel.  One marvelous amenity was our son fell in the bathroom, while trying to climb and reach his swimsuit and gashed his chin open.  We called the front desk & they sent a nurse right up to our room.  She ended up determining he needed stitches, and sent us to the Los Angeles Children's Hospital (which has a great Child Life specialist that helped make the process painless).  But that was very helpful!  Both pools were pretty fun too.  But, with our family of 6, staying at a Disneyland hotel was not an option, as it was around $1,000 a night for the suite that we would require!?!?  So, check the hotels that are close by.  Personally, we stayed at the Residence Inn that was about 3/4 a mile walk to the Disneyland gate.  It had a great breakfast and an ok pool for the kids to play in and a basketball/volleyball court as well.  We brought our sit and stand stroller to tote our 3 year old, as well as all of our water bottles and snacks for the day, so the walk was very do-able.  Even getting the "penthouse suite" with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, kitchen & living room, we spent less than $300 per day for our family of 6.  There are many suite hotels to choose from close by, but when I planned this trip, 3 months before going, most of the hotels with suites were already full (even though we traveled in September!).

I am certainly thankful for Disney.  They strike to keep the parks clean and very well staffed.  I appreciate how they have the park setup, with rides and activities for multiple ages in the same area (not the same at Universal!!!).  So, I was able to ride with my 3 year old what enjoyed while my husband took our 11, 9 & 6 year old to bigger rides close by.

Our area fair is here this week and I don't think we are even going to go this year, as it will be going from an A visit at Disneyland to about a D- at the fair!!!  My kids will be wondering where the fast passes are!?!?

This is all I can think of right now!  Happy traveling to the "Happiest Place on Earth!"

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